Working my way through a blog loosely-themed around women with guitars, I’m learning an awful lot about the history of female fronted bands… for instance I’ve discovered that women have breasts. Fact. And no matter what style of music they happen to be playing, the artist’s promo photos all start to look alike after a while, with the same cleavage flashing and pouty looks to camera (queercore and Riot Grrrls excluded, of course). I’ve also learned that while you can’t always judge a book by its cover, you can generally judge a band by its name. The All Girl Summer Fun Band for instance plays exactly the sort of peppy, pool-party pop-rock that you’d expect… while the songs of Seven Year Bitch are just as spiky and snarly as the name would suggest… meanwhile, any band with blood or a medieval weapon in their name are probably best avoided, unless you enjoy being barked at by Teutonic types.
So, what to make of a band called Fanny? Much like “pants”, the word is far ruder on this side of the Atlantic, but still… it must surely inspire giggles wherever it’s heard. In fact they were one of the first all-female rock bands signed by a major label, back in the old-timey days. There seems to be some dispute over who exactly can claim the firsties on that one though, as a group called Goldie and the Gingerbreads were signed to Decca in 1963, six years before Fanny were snapped up by Reprise. Sadly, none of the Gingerbreads recordings seem to have made it through to the digital age, beyond a few token appearances on retro compilations, so Fanny can at least claim to be the-first-all-female-rock-band-currently-available-on-CD. The Gingerbreads are used to being overlooked though… in the stinky days of All-American segregation, their music was too black for the white stations, and their faces were too white for the black stations. Oy. They did have one hit single, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” that reached #25 on the UK charts in 1965. Although the single was also released in the US, a recording of the same song by the heavily promoted Herman’s Hermits was released with great fanfare just two weeks prior to the Gingerbreads’ release, scuppering the gals’ chances stateside. The band broke up in 1968, but they reunited in 1997, to mark their 30th anniversary and to commemorate the release of The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock. A year later, they were honoured with the Touchstone Award for Women in Music. This distinction is given to women who “have the courage and inspiration to make a difference in the music industry and whose work has set new standards.”
Meanwhile, Fanny’s hilarious moniker was part of their marketing campaign, as they posed with their backs to the camera for the cover of their self-titled, debut release, and promoted it with stickers which read “Get behind Fanny” or “Fanny: The End Of An Era”. Pun-tastic! Of course, while we’re on the subject of band names, it’s always worth remembering that The Beatles have one of the silliest appellations of all time… they were a beat group, whose wacky wordplay didn’t stop them from evolving into (arguably) one of the greatest British bands of all time. But I digress. Fanny hit the US Top 40 twice, with “Charity Ball” (#40) in 1971 and “Butter Boy” (#29) in 1975. A reunion show was held at Berklee Music Center in 2007, where the band members received the Rockrgrl Women of Valor award for their achievements. Rockrgrl Magazine folded a few years back, unfortunately, but it was a good read while it lasted. I’m spinning some Fanny (tee hee) even as I type this, and they had some great tunes. Plenty of organ and guitar, and a vocal style somewhat reminiscent of the mighty Suzi Quatro… ironic (?), since Suzi’s sister Patti joined the group in their latter years as a guitarist (and apparently staged a coup of sorts, as founding members fell by the wayside).
Much though I love the way that fancy technology has since been used to warp and layer music, and the myriad ways in which artists have learned to warp and layer their stage personas, it’s still refreshing sometimes to slap on some music from simpler times… just a gang of girls playing their instruments live in a studio, and making music for the love of it… what could be better than that, on a chilly grey Sunday afternoon, while you hunch over your computer for warmth? There’s also something about the way women looked back in the Woodstock days… I dig the men’s style too, of course, hence the long hair and beard I’m rocking right now… again, I guess it goes back to how simple, natural and organic it all seems, through a rosy lens of born-too-late nostalgia. I don’t care if it does make me sound like a hopeless hippie… give me Grace Slick over Britney Spears, any day of the week! I’d better stop typing now, as I’m starting to ramble… and there’s nothing left to say, except: For those chicks about to rock, I salute you!